The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Legendary author Amanda Quick returns with her latest romantic suspense novel, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, an historical mystery set in the outskirts of Hollywood’s secret-laden movie colony in the 1930s.
After stumbling onto the scene of the murder of her socialite employer and benefactress, Anna Harris takes the woman’s postmortem advice and runs, taking with her a notebook filled with the mysterious Helen Spencer’s secrets, a wad of cash, and an important blue velvet bag and heads up Route 66 to California. Named a suspect within twenty-four hours of her flight, Anna knows there’s no going back to Chicago and creates herself a new identity, renaming herself Irene Glasson. She quickly learns that others who were to connected to Helen and mentioned in her notebook have met with ugly ends, and so Irene has to fight for her own survival, four months after becoming a hard-nosed journalist for the third-string tabloid Whispers.
Irene follows a lead to a small resort town near Los Angeles. Celebrities have a history of using Burning Cove’s glamorous environs for the purpose of positive publicity and privacy alike, and the notion of having a glaring bright spotlight focused on its peccadilloes makes the movie colony and the people who have high-stakes businesses there incredibly wary. When actress Gloria Maitland is found at the bottom of a pool at the Burning Cove Hotel’s spa, Irene knows she’s in big trouble. She’d been chasing a lead on a hot new actor, Nick Tremayne, and Gloria was her best source; so when the scoop that is Gloria’s murder falls into her lap she finds herself with a new case and in an even more treacherous situation. She quickly comes to realize that her colleague, the blowsy gossip column legend Peggy Hackett, didn’t drown in her own bathtub but was murdered violently, adding a third murder to the roll call of macabre disaster that’s been tailing her.
Plenty of people want to keep Irene silent. There’s Nick, whose pretty face hides an ugly, selfish side – he was trying to get rid of Gloria before she became a human pool noodle. He’s determined to suppress his controversial past and stay in the Hollywood game at any cost, with the help of his anxious assistant, Claudia. Then there’s Earnest Ogden, a self-proclaimed ‘well-paid nanny’ (aka a fixer), whose job it is to babysit people like Nick and keep their scandals under wraps, happily hiring thugs whenever necessary to do it. Henry Oakes, a seemingly obsessed stalker extraordinaire, thinks he’s destined to share a future history with Nick – but their pasts are already enmeshed. Daisy Jennings, a hanger-on social climber knows too much about Nick’s past. And don’t forget father and son contract killers Julian and Graham Enright, part of a long tradition of sadists for hire grown fat on old money, who’ve been on Irene’s tail since Chicago.
But most importantly there’s Oliver, a reclusive ex-magician with an inventor uncle who owns the hotel and doesn’t want to lose his huge investment due to bad publicity. He soon becomes Irene’s greatest ally, a partner in her investigation – and the biggest target for her enemies, who accuse the two of them of fraternization. With Oliver’s old stagecraft tricks and Irene’s determination, the twosome are determined to bring the true killer to justice. Will Irene discover the connection between Gloria, Peggy and Helen and live to ride into the sunset, or will she and Oliver meet a watery grave?
Amanda Quick is an expert weaver of fiction, and it’s quite easy to get absorbed in the chatty, slightly gritty and gossipy world she weaves here. Her voice and tone are just right; the dialogue has a brash, smooth way of echoing thirties film noir – a whiff of Bogart there, a splash of Hawks here, and all of it in good fun. By the time the suspense truly kicks in – about midway through the book – the reader is primed and ready for things to get as juicy as they do.
Irene is a gutsy dame, and she’s fun to follow on her journey from secretary to journalist. Of the supporting characters, I liked Oliver the most; you can hear the Bogart brio in his voice as he weaves through the story with Irene on his arm. His disability is handled well, and his inventor uncle is charming, if underused. Irene and Oliver’s romance builds quite steadily and realistically throughout the novel, eventually echoing some of Quick’s best romantic work, and they have chemistry from their first meeting onward. Ms. Quick also bolsters her story by cleverly fictionalizing a few Hollywood legends and weaving them into Irene’s story. If you love old Hollywood gossip as much as I do you’ll have fun drawing lines between point a and point b.
The novel has only one problem – which is ironically its breakneck pacing. Suspects are introduced in chapter after chapter, barely giving the audience time to react before we’re suddenly with a new person and holding a new plot thread. This works when you’re reading a Sam Spade-style mystery and your hero doesn’t have intimate connections to people; but doesn’t when people like the lead’s mentor are biting the dust. One example: Peggy is introduced as a murder victim and we’re told – after her murder – that she was Irene’s best friend, biggest support and main leg up into journalism before her death; and that Irene found the body. Wouldn’t it have been much better for the story if we got to see Peggy interact with Irene? It’s an opportunity Quick misses, but a minor quibble. And I suppose it’s always a good sign when an author leaves you wanting more.
In the end the rapid pace, the great characters and the fine chemistry between them kept me turning the pages. Quick continues her winning streak of good books written well, and The Girl Who Knew Too Much stands happily and handsomely next to her best work.